Give Your Site Visitors Something to Talk About

In a previous article titled “Does Your Website Have What Your Visitors Want?” I discussed a number of the things you need to keep in mind when building your website to attract visitors and convince them to stay. I placed a lot of emphasis on the usability and design of your site, because of how strongly those factors affect a visitor’s experience. This article discusses the two remaining areas I wanted to cover: content and links.

Why does your website deserve to be listed at the top of the search engine results page (SERPs), above all the others in your field? If you can’t answer that question clearly, you don’t deserve that ranking. If you answer that question with all the ways you have optimized your keywords for the search engines, there’s a good chance you’re missing the point. Search engines are for people who are searching for something, and your site should cater to those people as well. While many Web surfers shop online, most are looking for one thing: information.

Content is still king online; not just content, but high quality content. If your content is good enough, people will naturally link to it, and that link system operates as a voting system with the major search engines. Great content = lots of links = high rankings in the SERPs. So, to rank high in the SERPs, you have to think about what your visitors want and need.

So how do you know your content is high quality? You have to know your field. An article written to certain standards might count as “best of class” in one field, but rank as below average in another. Think about the kind of content that your competitors are providing on their sites, and what you can provide that would better serve your visitors. In the next section, I’ll discuss certain steps you can take that should help you provide high quality content regardless of your field.

{mospagebreak title=Getting the Best Content}

As I already mentioned, you want to start out by researching your field. That means going to the forums, blogs, and online communities where those in your field hang out and talk shop. Keep track of the questions and topics that crop up most frequently and garner the most interest. Use what you’ve learned when you’re building your website. If you’re operating a juggling shop with an online presence, for example, and you see hundreds of people complaining about a lack of information on juggling objects of wildly varying weights together, you would be wise to address the lack with a good article or two to set you apart from the competition.

Another good reason to research your field is that it will tell you who the industry experts are. Every industry has them, and if you can enlist their help, even in a small way, you gain an edge. Invite them to publish articles on your site, review some of your work, or even just offer a few quotes you can use. This gives them exposure as well, and provides a natural tie-in for both of you for promotion. I’ll talk more about ways to use experts on your site when I discuss link-worthy ideas.

Experts are great resources, and your site should be as well. In fact, if you can give your visitors a document that serves as a one-stop resource for what they might want, you gain another competitive edge. People will recommend your site as featuring the best overview of the topic. It’s important when you compose this document to keep your readers in mind, of course. Don’t go too broad; still, you should cover every side of their interests while staying focused on your message. (Nobody said creating great content is easy).

While we’re talking about the nature of the information you provide, consider this: is there some content you can put on your site that is not available anywhere else? Visitors will appreciate unique content and recommend it to others. Try to include this kind of data when you’re working on the content outline for your site.

The “setting” of your content is important as well. Just as you wouldn’t put a diamond in a base and distracting setting, be aware of how your content looks surrounded by the ads on your site. Most Web surfers find ads to be distracting, and have developed fine, hypersensitive antennas for overly commercialized sites. They will tell their friends to stay away from sites that feature too many prominent and/or distracting ads. If you must post advertising, do so discreetly.

I will make one final point about your content. Good content, is, well, good, but you should strive for great content. Producing content that is so great it becomes the “industry standard” on the Internet will get you a tremendous amount of traffic, recommendations, and referrals. To be the source of all this gets you far more value than having lots of articles that are rarely read or linked to. If you must choose, choose quality over quantity.

{mospagebreak title=Making Your Site Linkable}

Creating content that follows the guidelines above will get visitors talking about your site and linking to it. Can you create content specifically designed to be the sort of thing that visitors would want to link to? Yes; the guidelines are similar. You want to give your visitors something that is useful and informative; something that is interactive or will touch their emotions (i.e. involves opinions) can help as well. Think of what will generate “buzz” or give people something to talk about. You’ll have to brainstorm for ideas of what will work in your field, but here are some to get you started.

If you’re in the banking industry, you can provide free loan or mortgage calculators. That’s just one example of a useful tool, and it can be easily adapted to your field. Think of tools that query data sources, combine information or carry out calculations.

You’ve probably heard a lot of buzz around the term Web 2.0. In some ways the term is still more of a buzzword, but those who follow this trend watch for sites that cater to it. It involves communities that share information and interact; mashups, blogs and RSS feeds are part of the trend.

If you have a journalistic bent, you might consider writing an expose detailing the misconduct of others in the field (people, organizations, websites, companies, and so on). If you do this professionally, and post the story before anyone else, you can generate a lot of traffic. But you must be careful with this; it can backfire in a really nasty way.

You can go the David Letterman route and generate a top 10 list. Think in terms of a useful rather than a humorous top ten list, though – a list of tips, or links, or resources. These lists can inspire lots of discussion and referencing…and therefore lots of traffic.

Of course, you can go the humorous route as well; in fact, you might want to. Few, if any, industries are so serious that they can’t be lightened by a bit of humor, and most people like to laugh. Use your knowledge of the field, its stereotypes and history. You might want to be careful not to be too offensive (though that can generate comments and traffic too), but if you get them laughing, you’ll get them linking, too.

{mospagebreak title=More Link-Inspiring Ideas}

Most industries have trade shows, conferences, speeches, or seminars associated with them. If you make it to one of those and craft a well-written review, you’ll get plenty of links and lots of gratitude from folks who couldn’t make it. Write professionally, and go ahead and namedrop (make sure you use full names). Link out to the folks you mention; they’ll probably drop by to check it out.

Since these kinds of events are also great places to rub shoulders with industry insiders or other names in the field, you might think about setting up an interview. It could even be something as simple as getting permission to email them a few questions, which they will answer and then let you use on your website. (Hint: when you do send the email, remind them of the discussion and give them a reasonable deadline). Remember, these experts are likely to consent because it gives them press as well.

You can even use experts in a group. If you’re writing an article that offers advice on a particular subject, you can poll several experts in the field and ask them to offer their advice. You’re likely to get links from the experts themselves, as well as from your readers. And if they disagree (as experts often do), so much the better. For instance, one of the most popular features in a quarterly magazine aimed at science fiction and fantasy writers (the SFWA Bulletin) is a dialogue between two luminaries in the field, one an optimist, the other a pessimist.

How about holding a contest or a competition? Prizes and public awards generate interest, even if the award is only a small graphic the winner gets to place on their website. Along the same lines, giving away prizes could encourage links (everyone likes to get something for nothing).

These are just a few ideas you can use; with some thought about what is likely to attract attention from people in your field, I’m sure you can come up with many more ideas. Think like an industry reporter, trying to cover what is hot, unique, and exciting in your field. Is your content likely to make that reporter want to grab a keyboard and start typing? If so, you’re well on your way to building a site worth talking about…and linking to.

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